Author Archives: aaremo

Tao Te Ching 47: The farther you go, the less you know

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- 47 -

Without opening your door,
you can know the whole world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the way of heaven.

The further you go,
the less you know.
The more knowledge you seek,
the less you understand.

The Sage understands without leaving,
sees clearly without looking,
accomplishes much without doing anything.

Commentary
The further you travel, the more you strive and the more knowledge you try to accumulate, the further you actually distance yourself from realising the Tao. For Lao Tzu tells us the answers are not to be found ‘out there’, but only within ourselves. So, how is it possible to know the whole world and the way of the Tao without venturing outside our door? Why are we always told that the answers are within us?

Knowledge usually relates to the realm of facts, figures and quantifiable information. Truth or wisdom goes beyond mere information. When we seek truth, we seek to differentiate between reality and illusion. Only with truth, or Self-knowledge can we hope to understand the nature of our existence. We can gather as many facts and statistics about the apparent world as we like (and, yes, we actually can know the whole world without even leaving our house — by simply logging onto the internet!), but that doesn’t mean we know anything about the true nature of reality, only the realm of appearance.

From within the dream, we can learn everything there is to know about the dream itself, but that doesn’t mean we know that we’re dreaming or are aware of anything beyond the dream. Surface-level knowledge is of limited use. Truth, however, points to a deeper reality; that which exists prior to and beyond the dream-state.

So why is the truth to be found within us? Perhaps it is because we are the microcosm of the macrocosm. We are each miniature universes and contained within us are all the wonders and truths of the larger universe. The two are not separate. There is no ‘us’ and ‘the rest of the universe’. All such notions are but dualistic delusions created by the mind. The secrets of the universe and life are within us because we are the universe and we are life. There is no separation.

Everything that we perceive to be out there is only an appearance in our awareness. Awareness is the unifying factor. Without awareness, there would be no experience and no universe. The key is to explore the nature of that awareness and consciousness itself. Trace it to its source: know it, understand it and thus know and understand the baseline substratum on which all the experiences of your life—and the world and universe—appear like images on photographic film.

Seeking outwardly has a tendency to take us deeper into the dream occurring in consciousness. As Carl Jung said: “he who looks outside dreams, he who looks inside awakens.”

Tao Te Ching 46: Contentment

(Image; stockvault)

- 46 -

When a country is in harmony with the Tao

running horses are retired to till the fields.

When a country runs counter to the Tao

warhorses are bred outside the cities.

~

There is no greater calamity than

not knowing what is enough,

no greater curse than covetousness,

no greater tragedy than discontentment;

and the worst of all faults is wanting more – always.

~

Contentment alone is enough.

Indeed, the bliss of eternity

can be found in your contentment.

~

 

Commentary

War is counter to the nature of the Tao. Its root is fear, the need to defend oneself (or as is usually the case, the need to defend one’s beliefs and viewpoints), greed, discontentment and our pathological craving for more and more. These afflictions of the mind lead us to conflict, war and eventual ruin.

Lao Tzu tells us that to be content with what we have is the key to the “bliss of eternity”. Contentment sows the seeds of happiness, never of conflict and war.

Our challenge is therefore to let go of the need to make ourselves right and others wrong, and to relinquish any tendencies toward greed and covetousness and be content with what we possess. This doesn’t mean we should never pursue anything in life, but that because we know that we’re already whole and complete, we’re clear that no object, acquisition or experience can make us any more or less than we innately are.

This could well be the choice between living in heaven or hell — both of which are states of mind. It’s a choice that no one else can make for us. It’s one that we must make each and every moment of our lives.

 

Tao Te Ching 45: Stepping out the way

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- 45 -

The greatest perfection seems imperfect,

yet its use is inexhaustible.

The greatest fullness seems empty,

yet its use is endless.

~

True straightness seems crooked.

True skill appears clumsy.

True eloquence seems awkward.

True wisdom seems foolish.

~

Stillness and tranquility set things in order

in the universe.

The Sage allows things to happen.

He shapes events as they come.

He steps out of the way

and allows the Tao to speak for itself.

~

Commentary

Truth rarely comes in the shape and form it is expected. The function of the mind is to divide, compartmentalise and categorise that which is ultimately indivisible. Thus we fail to understand that seeming imperfection is part of an overriding perfection and the emptiness at the core of our being is actually the fullness of life in all its splendor.

We also tend to keep looking for things in all the wrong places. Because the mind has a notion of what life is, what it should to be and its assorted notions of right and wrong, true and false, it’s easy to miss the obvious and be deceived by the paradoxes of life. This verse invites us to consider the possibility that the greatest wisdom, perfection and truth might actually be the opposite of what we assume it to be.

The final paragraph re-emphasizes the way of the Sage, he or she who is at one with life. When the ‘person’ is set aside, the Tao is allowed to flow through the space previously occupied by notions of selfhood and ego. Stepping out the way means letting go of the ego’s need to be in the driving seat, and allowing the process of life, the Tao, to flow as it naturally does, unhindered, unobstructed. We then become like a flute, through which the breath of life sounds its melody. When we stop, allow and listen, it becomes clear that life is not so much coming from us as it is coming through us.

—-

It’s been over 3 months since I posted one of these! Wow. I’ll get back to it now. My Tao Te Ching verses and commentary are collected in the following volume, now available as an ebook on Amazon and Smashwords. A print edition is coming soon!

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Success, failure…and letting go of the need to control the outcome

Don't stress, bro. Enjoy the game. (image from Stockvault)

Don’t stress, bro. Enjoy the game. (image from Stockvault)

The other day I came across a blog by an American Christian woman who wanted to be a writer. I was looking for a certain quote and I ended up on her site. Anyway, the most recent post was basically a rant about how she was giving up blogging because she’d spent two years trying to make it successful in the hopes of making a living from it. But she was completely frustrated and fed up because it hadn’t taken off. She believed that God had told her to create the blog and to focus on writing and she was very angry and pissed off at God because God hadn’t brought her the success she wanted. She felt disillusioned, angry and, in her own words ‘quite bitter’. So that was her final blog post, and perhaps not the most graceful of exits.

I found this interesting on a number of levels. One might argue that it was a fairly childish attitude yet I could relate to her on some levels. I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, spending thousands of hours sitting alone scrawling on notebooks or typing on keypads, pouring my heart and soul onto paper or screen. I spent years trying to find a publisher for my first novel and eventually gave up. I wrote another novel and spent ages trying to find a publisher for that. Just around the point I’d almost given up, I eventually found one. Finally some success! Yay — go me! And then a year later my book was published, with virtually no promotion from said publisher, and despite my best efforts it wasn’t even remotely close to giving JK Rowling a run for her money in terms of sales. Argh, failure! Doh — woe is me. What’s up, God, you big pervert? You wanted me to write, you gave me ideas and characters and stories that I just couldn’t let go of until I’d clothed them in words, and you go to all the effort of arranging a publisher, only for it to go pretty much unnoticed in the great literary world?

Actually, unlike the blog lady, I’m not in the slightest bit bitter or pissed off. From the moment it was published I made a conscious choice not to get hung up on the results. Now, it would have been amazing if it had hit the top spot on the New York Times besteller list and Hollywood film producers had been knocking at my door. If I had any say in what happened — any say at all — that’s precisely what would have happened!

But, the sad truth is, the results of our actions are not up to us. They never have been and never will be. We’re in control of our actions (to an extent, anyway; as much of our behaviour and thinking is driven by our unconscious programming– but that’s really a whole other topic), but we have no say in what comes of those actions.

So what’s the point in worrying? It doesn’t make sense to get upset over something over which we have no control. We simply have to do our best and accept whatever comes; whatever life or ‘God’ decides to send our way. I’m actually very happy to have sold what books I have. I am happy that people read my blog and take an interest in my work. Because nobody has to. Everyone is busy and there are countless books being published and blogs being posted every moment. There’s so much out there — and a lot of it very good stuff, too — that I’m frankly honoured anyone would take the time to read anything I have to say.

I don’t really care about figures and sales and notions of success and failure — that’s not why I write. I write because I love to write. It’s my dharma, my purpose and passion. I love sharing ideas and the wisdom I’ve been gifted with along life’s journey. I love being able to write the stories that have fired my imagination and sharing them with others. To be pissed off at life because more people aren’t reading them would just be childish and silly. It would mean that I’m not doing what I do because I love doing it, but because I want certain results from it.

If the love and passion isn’t there — if what we do is simply a means to some other end — then I believe we ought to re-evaluate what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. If we’re not enjoying it, if we’re struggling away and filled with frustration and resentment, as the aforementioned blog lady was, then yeah, we probably should give it up and instead find something else we do enjoy doing, regardless of whether it becomes ‘successful’ or not.

And, after all, what is success anyway? Is it making a huge name for yourself and earning lots of money? That would be nice, certainly, but that alone doesn’t necessarily guarantee satisfaction. Money or no money, we all have a finite time in this world, and I believe success is using that time well and living well; being able to do what we love and enjoy, whether as a full-time career or as a cherished hobby or pastime. Losing the enjoyment out of preoccupation with achieving certain results is kind of sad — and yet a trap that’s so easy to fall into. Why not just relax and do what we love?

This is very much the spirit of karma yoga. Karma yoga is an attitude of mind which emphasises the fact that we have the right to act, but we have no say in the result of that action. The result is not up to us — it’s up to the field of life. When this truly sinks in, we realise it’s futile stressing and fretting about the results of our actions. All we can do is do what we love, what we feel most compelled to do, and what is right in terms of the situation, and let go of the result, trusting that whatever comes, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, is what’s meant to come.

Of course, we all want a good outcome to our actions, otherwise what would be the point of doing it? But a mature mind realises that there are innumerable factors at work in any situation. No matter how much we might want something, it may simply be we’re not meant to get it. Every single person that buys a lottery ticket wants to win the jackpot, but there’s only one jackpot! So obviously there are going to be a heck of a lot of disappointed people. That’s just the nature of life.

In order to avoid unnecessary stress and becoming bitter and resentment at our perceived ‘failures’, a mature mindset is needed. Life is going to give us what it gives us, based on the interplay of countless unseen and interrelated variables altogether beyond our comprehension. This moment is exactly as it is because of an unfathomably vast chain of causes and effects stretching all the way back to the very beginning of the universe. It is as it is, because it can’t be any different.

So, as the great Joseph Campbell used to say, we have to follow our bliss. Follow our bliss, let go of the need for specific results and just let the universe do its thing — because it’s going to anyway! So let’s stop fretting and enjoy the game for what it is.

Some schools of Hinduism describe life as being 'lila', a divine play or sport. (Image: Stockvault)

Some schools of Hinduism describe life as being ‘lila’, a divine play or sport. (Image: Stockvault)

….Incidentally, since I’m on the subject I might as well steal the moment to indulge in some shameless self-promotion! :)

If you like my writing, check out my critically acclaimed novel ELADRIA, available in paperback or low-price ebook (seriously, it’s cheaper than a cup of coffee and will provide far longer lasting stimulation!). Or, even cheaper — two free short stories which I think are kind of cool.

I’ve also just reduced the price of my translation/commentary of the Tao Te Ching and corrected a formatting error in the first chapter (apologies about that, it didn’t show up in the original file). It’s now available on Kindle and also on Smashwords in multiple formats. A paperback edition is coming soon and a related pocket book called ‘Being The Tao’. I will be posting more from it soon. Enjoy.

In seeing, just the seen…

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In seeing, just the seen.

In hearing, just the heard.

In thinking, just the arising of a thought.

In feeling, just the arising of a feeling.

Our experience is nothing but a continuous stream of sensations and objects arising on the screen of awareness. One of the things Zen does with beautiful simplicity is to make us realise that sensations, objects, thoughts, feelings, desires and fears all just arise and subside. And we can let them.

There is no need to create identifications with these transient sensory phenomena. No need to create stories around them, to label them or to hold onto them in any way.

It’s all just a never-ending kaleidoscope of images, thoughts, impressions, feelings, tastes, sounds, touch. They come and go — arising, passing by and dissolving like clouds in the sky. Try holding onto a cloud. It can’t be done.

None of it is me. None of it says anything about me. I am that in which it arises. Awareness. Just as the sky is unaffected by the clouds that pass across it, awareness is untouched and unaffected by the thoughts, sensations and experiences that are born and die within it.

Seriously, it doesn’t matter how much has happened in my life — the great things and the terrible things — for the awareness that’s looking out of these eyes is the very same awareness that looked out of these eyes when I was a young child. It hasn’t changed one little bit. It’s changeless, timeless, transcendent. And I think that’s pretty darn cool.

The Only Thing You Ever Need To Know About Self Esteem

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The issue of self esteem is something that’s unique to human beings. It’s not something that animals or plants have to bother about because they’ve already got it sussed! In fact they have a great deal to teach us about what is, for many people, something of a thorny issue. I kind of wish I’d learned the truth about self esteem and self worth when I was growing up. It might have made those adolescent years a heck of a lot easier. Because what I’m going to tell you about self esteem is profoundly simple, yet once grasped can be nothing less than life-changing.

Self esteem is defined as our overall measure of self-worth and the notion we have of our inherent value. Our self esteem affects how we feel about ourselves and drives our behaviour and outlook on life at a fundamental level.

Perhaps because our society is driven by competition, attainment and acquisition, most of us are raised to believe, either consciously or unconsciously that our self esteem is conditional and is determined by external factors. In other words, we believe that in order to legitimately feel good about ourselves (or even just feel OK about ourselves), we have to be a certain way.

We tell ourselves our self esteem wouldn’t a problem if we were just a little bit taller, better looking, more skilled or talented at certain things, if we had more friends or more money, or got better grades in school or college or if he had a loving partner or the perfect gym bod. If our bodies, minds and life circumstances don’t measure up to this conceptual idea we have of adequacy, then we feel we feel inadequate and lacking. This is simply because we’ve tied our sense of self esteem and self worth to external conditions, many of which we have no control over. Low self esteem can adversely affect every area of our lives, from relationships and social situations to education and career.

The root of this problem is clearly the thinking mind. It’s based on a mistaken assumption: that our self esteem is conditional and depends on innumerable outside factors.

But what if our self esteem was innate and unconditional? What if there was nothing we had to do, become or prove in order to know that we are worthy, valuable and innately good? What if nothing that has ever happened to us, or ever will happen to us, can in any way diminish our innate worth?

I could take a gold coin, scratch it, burn it, cover it in soil and spit on it….and yet nothing I did to it would in any way diminish its value. It has innate value because its nature is gold. It’s impossible to remove ‘goldness’ from the gold. And, you know what? We are gold, through and through!

We are good enough by virtue of what we are: amazing expressions of pure consciousness functioning through a unique body/mind/intellect. The light that animates us, pure awareness, is the most precious thing in the world and it can be neither added to nor subtracted from in any way. We have nothing to add to ourselves and nothing to prove in order to have worth. Our self worth is innate and inalienable. It’s our birthright and the only thing that can take it away from us are the unquestioned thoughts in our own minds. The capacity human beings have to think, analyse and differentiate is a great blessing, unique to our species, but it can sometimes be a great curse as well.

I’ve always had a great love of animals (check this post). Animals are totally themselves, totally authentic, and pure. Animals are perfect exactly the way they are, the way they’ve been programmed to be, and they have no issue with that. Imagine how absurd it would be if a puppy developed low self esteem because it didn’t think it was big enough yet, or it felt it was the wrong colour, or its tail was the wrong shape. Or if a cow felt inferior because it didn’t feel its markings matched up to the other cows in the field. Or if a little chihuahua had low self esteem because it lived next door to a great dane. Clearly that would be ridiculous. Yet that’s what we humans are doing all the time — and it’s no less ridiculous!

We are the way we are. We didn’t create our bodies, we didn’t choose the circumstances around us or the limitations we have to contend with every day. We are where we are and we are who we are, and beneath all the million and one things we might judge and condemn and want to change, there’s an innate perfection at the core of our being: the clear light of awareness, the Self that animates our being; the light in which all phenomena arises and subsides, quite of its own accord. How can our self esteem and self worth not be innate? How can it depend on outer achievements and notions of success and failure? Because regardless of whatever we might strive to attain and acquire in life, we’re ultimately going to lose it all. A newborn baby hasn’t achieved a single damn thing in life; it can’t even speak or feed itself, and yet no one would claim that baby had no worth. It’s worth is there by virtue of its existence, its being, its shining consciousness.

In reality there should be no such thing has low self esteem or high self esteem. Our sense of self esteem and self worth ought to be fixed and immutable, in the same way as an animal’s is. Our worth and value is much like the worth and value of that gold coin: no matter what we might do, what we might gain or lose, nothing affects our value in any way. A homeless man on the street ought to have the same measure of self worth as the president of a country. They both have very different circumstances; one would be deemed highly successful and important by society’s standards and the other a nobody or loser, but beyond those conceptual, mind-made judgements, both have the same level of worth, importance and innate beauty. We all do. And no one can take it away from us, regardless of what they might think about us or say or do. (I’m aware some people might argue that in the case of a homeless person, for example, low self esteem might be necessary to compel them to change their circumstances. We don’t need low self esteem to do that — in fact low self esteem would be a hindrance more than anything. If we are suffering, we can take steps to alleviate that suffering without telling ourself that our circumstances and experiences diminish us in some way. We transcend all that happens to us.)

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As I write this, I’m watching some sparrows hopping about outside. None of them think they are any better or worse than any of the others! They just are as they are. They’re each different, and yet not different, and each perfect exactly as they are. Human beings are no different. We just tend to think we are…and therein lies both the problem and the solution.

How much easier would life be if we truly realised that no matter what life throws our way, and no matter what other people think or how they treat us, nothing can diminish our innate worth and value. It’s simply non-negotiable! How freeing is that? It releases us from the immense pressure and burden of trying to be good enough, trying to prove that we matter and are valuable and worthy of love and acceptance. We don’t have to do anything to be worthy of love and acceptance (including, and perhaps most importantly, our own). We already are, and we always will be.

The fundamental human problem

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One of the greatest mistakes we make in life is trying to fix subsidiary problems without exploring, understanding and tackling the baseline problem from which all the surface level issues arise. It’s a bit like casually yanking out weeds without pulling out the roots. But what is the fundamental human problem, the core issue that lies at the root of our suffering, desires and wants? What is it that really drives human behaviour?

I recently finished reading ‘The Teaching of the Bhagavad Gita’ by Swami Dayananda. The first chapter alone beautifully sums up the core human predicament. As I often do when I’m studying books, I attacked the pages with a highlighter pen, and here are some sections that really jumped out at me. I believe Dayananda hits the nail right on the head, and he does so with remarkably eloquent simplicity.

The human mind is a battlefield, a scene of constant conflict. The conflict arises only because choice is possible.

[An animal] lives according to its natural instincts without conflicts. It does not try to be different from what it is, since it does not have a self-consciousness in which it perceives itself as unhappy.

Wishing to be different is peculiar to human beings. Blessed with buddhi, the faculty of the intellect, a human being is not only conscious of the world but also of himself. This is what distinguishes him from the animals. It is the glory of man that he is conscious of himself.

However the self he is aware of is not a complete, adequate self; it is, unfortunately a wanting, inadequate self. [...] This is the source of all conflict.

In its desire to be complete, the mind, which is the platform for all undertakings, [driven by a constant sense of want] becomes a battlefield of conflicting ideas. There is always conflict, demanding solution. The human mind desires to be free from conflict.

When a person wants something, it is not the object that he or she really wants. Rather, by obtaining the object he hopes to be different. I am uneasy because I am not satisfied with myself as I am. Owing to the feeling that all is not well with me, I have to do something to set things right.

What one does to achieve comfort varies from individual to individual. What one wants to acquire or get rid of is determined by one’s values. [But] whatever one does, the droning “I want” remains. This is the fundamental human problem. I long to feel at home, and to feel at peace with myself. Nowhere do I find that peace, because I am conscious of myself as an inadequate being and I cannot be at home with inadequacy. Not knowing how to solve the problem, I run away from it. But nobody has ever solved a problem by escape.

Life is lived in the tension of want and inadequacy. Everyone wants to be different from what he or she is. This is a problem common to every human being.

Solving this problem is the purpose of life.

[Vedanta] addresses itself to the problem of the inadequate self.

So really, the root of all our problems, our conflicts, wants and desires and aversions is this notion we have of ourselves as being an inadequate, lacking, needy little entity, helplessly tossed about by the crashing waves of life. Basically everything we do in life is motivated by the desire to feel whole and complete, to add to ourselves, to validate ourselves and to escape this crippling sense of insufficiency that we all carry inside us, however deeply buried. We deal with this sense of lack by chasing after objects — money, status, relationships, fancy cars and even fancier gadgets. The objects we seek are determined by our own particular values and likes and dislikes. The thing is, no matter what we chase after and perhaps attain, the happiness is only temporary, because we life is in constant flux and we have little control over the objects. Here today, gone tomorrow. Deriving our happiness from such transient things is a surefire recipe for sorrow.

The key to lasting happiness is to get to the root of our problem: this deeply-ingrained sense of inadequacy that silently gnaws away at us. It’s not a personal thing; it’s common to virtually every human being. We need to tackle this unexamined assumption, and that’s where vedanta comes in. Vedanta is neither a religion nor a philosophy, but a pramana, a means of knowledge — in this case self knowledge. What if, contrary to our long-held assumptions, we are not a lacking, inadequate, limited little being, but innately whole, compete, free and boundless? What if, by exploring the unexamined logic of our own experience, we can come to see that the insufficient little person we’ve taken ourselves to be our whole lives is nothing but a false assumption born of ignorance of our true nature?

My Tao Te Ching book is now available to download!

First of all, a belated happy new year to everyone! The festivities of Christmas and New Year seem like a very distant memory now. It’s been quiet this side for various reasons, but I’m looking forward to getting back to blogging, as I feel I have some cool stuff to share. So watch this space!

First, I  wanted to announce that my translation and commentary of the Tao Te Ching has now been published on Amazon Kindle! I’ve been posting the Tao verse by verse over the past year on here, so you’ll maybe already be familiar with the style and approach I’ve adopted. I’ll continue posting the remainder of the verses (I’m still little over halfway through the 81 verses), but if you’d like to read them sooner and have them all to hand, then check out the book!

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Blurb: The Tao Te Ching is one of the world’s oldest and most profound pieces of literature. Written around 2,500 years ago by the enigmatic Lao Tzu, its wisdom is timeless and its message just as relevant today. The text, presented here in its entirety with additional commentary on all 81 chapters, is both subtle and expansive. Lao Tzu explores the workings of the cosmos and the natural world, reflecting on the origin and essential nature of mankind. He offers us a better way of living: one that’s free of rigid belief systems, dogma, conflict and the stress and strain of perpetual craving and striving that characterises so many people’s lives. 

The Tao Te Ching urges us to live in harmony with the natural flow of life. Tao literally means ‘the way’, and throughout the text Lao Tzu draws parallels between the Tao and the effortless flow of nature. As one verse states: “I drift like a wave on the ocean. I blow as aimless as the wind.” More than just poetic words; they encapsulate the art of living the Tao. When we align ourselves with the flow of life, we relax, let go and find ourselves living with ease, effortlessness, grace and humility.

At the moment it’s only available to download on Kindle, but it will be available elsewhere in the next few weeks, along with a paperback edition and a pocketbook entitled ‘Being The Tao’, which features abridged selections from the commentary.

I originally set out creating my ‘own’ version of the Tao Te Ching around 5 years ago. I’d always been intrigued and compelled by this ancient text, but I struggled with many of the translations. I decided to rearrange the verses in a way that was clear and understandable while preserving the integrity of the original text. What I came up with was a version of the Tao Te Ching that made me nod my head instead of scratch it!

I wrote a short commentary to each verse after spending some time reflecting on Lao Tzu’s often cryptic words. I did this as a way of trying to understand, integrate and assimilate the meaning of the text. I’m really happy to now be able to share it with the world. I’ve already had a lot of positive feedback from the verses I’ve posted on here, so I’m glad to know it’s been of help and interest to others.

The verses and commentaries have been significantly edited and sometimes completely rewritten since I first posted them, often reflecting my growing understanding and ability to communicate some quite difficult, abstract concepts. It’s my hope that this is an easy to read, insightful and inspiring book. It is dedicated to Lao Tzu and all the sages over the millennia who have boldly peered beneath the surface of life in their quest to seek and share the deepest truths and wisdom of life, reality and human nature.

Click here to view and purchase the book on Amazon.com

Click here to view and purchase the book on Amazon.co.uk

Hope you enjoy.

10 Things I Learned About Life in 2013

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Hi everyone, hope you have all had a great Christmas/Solstice/festive season. Whenever we approach the end of another year and the beginning of a new one, I usually tend to get a little reflective. I find myself looking back over the previous twelve months, remembering both good times and bad, celebrating the successes and happy memories and sometimes licking my wounds as well. Life is a succession of experiences, some pleasant, some unpleasant and that’s just the nature of the game. The important thing is what we take from the experience and what we become by it. As Aldous Huxley said, “experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.”

So here are ten things that I’ve learned in the past twelve months. Many of them I already knew to be fair, but events may have forced a deeper and more profound realisation.

1. Have a purpose and passion. In the words of Swami Vivekananda:

Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life; dream of it, think of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, the body, muscles, nerves and every part of the body be full of that one idea and leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success, and this is the way great spiritual giants are produced.” 

It’s helps to know your desired destination before you hop on the train, and everything else in your life can then be measured in terms of whether it is conducive to your overall purpose. And hey, once you’re on that train you can relax! This purpose, our svadharma, is not something that can be manufactured. It’s built into us; it comes from our essential nature, although social conditioning and the social masks we develop often strip it away from us and we end up living inauthentic lives as inauthentic people. When you’re not true to yourself and living an authentic life that fulfils your dharma, you will suffer.

In the past few months I’ve committed myself to my true purpose, not least because I was left with no other option. I expect that purpose will change and evolve over time, for nothing is static or set in stone. But I’ve had to let go of the winding side paths and find the discipline, courage and energy to commit myself to the road less travelled. Amazingly, all the resources to just do that have almost miraculously appeared. Everything is just flowing perfectly now, and that is a wonder to behold.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” William Hutchinson Murray (often attributed to J.W. von Goethe)

2. It’s not up to us. Learning the art of karma yoga — which is an understanding and attitude with which we approach life — continues to be immensely helpful to me. Basically it’s like this: we are responsible for our actions, but we are not responsible for the results of our actions. The results of our actions are never in our hands. It’s up to the field of life and the innumerable factors that comprise that field. Knowing that the results are not up to us, that they’ll be whatever they will be, means that any emotional issues we have about getting what we want are ultimately erroneous.

When this really sinks in — and it does take time! — we automatically relax. We simply do our best in life with what we have. We play our part in the game, and the outcome of the game is up to life. We can take whatever comes, both good and bad (and life is always a mixture of the two) and deal with it in a relaxed and appropriate fashion. Living life as karma yoga is one of the ultimately remedies to stress. It’s all in the attitude.

3. Open your heart, but guard it. I’ve always believed that it’s good to see the best in people and I will always stand by that. However I’ve learned the hard way that you can save yourself a lot of heartache by trying to be objective at the same time. It doesn’t pay to believe everything everyone says just because you want it to be true. See people for what they are and not what you want them to be and proceed accordingly. Don’t seek love. Be love, and give love. Love doesn’t have to mean some notion of ‘romantic love’, it can be expressed in an infinite variety of ways in every single moment.

4. What other people think of us is none of our business. In the words of my teacher James Swartz: “Pack it in! It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about you. People are going to think what they’re going to think based on their vasanas. You have no control over it, so why are you wasting your time thinking about whether other people like you or not? One minute they’ll love you and the next moment they won’t. It’s totally outside your control. When you know that, you cease caring.” Word!

5. There is no failure; only lessons learned. We learn more from our seeming failures than our successes and often failure has the seeds of success within it, and vice versa. We really can’t judge things, because we can never see the bigger picture. As Rumi said, “failure is the key to the kingdom within”.

6. There’s beauty in everything and everyone. Even if it’s well hidden. And there’s immense beauty in our SELF. Even the simple recognition of it brings something to the world, something the world really needs. It’s a gift to the people we encounter…and to ourselves. See your own beauty. And share it by allowing it to shine.

7. Quit the media. I ceased trusting the mainstream media years ago. Go watch Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent. It’s agenda-driven, manipulating minds, belief systems, worldviews, and driven by the nefarious interests of a select few. I have a few alternative news sites I trust and generally I find out what I need to find out. I also feel much better when I resist the urge to read ‘comments’ sections on websites, because people write so much crap and behave in such childish moronic ways that I find it quite depressing! Media fasts are genuinely great for creativity and good for the soul too.

8. Sometimes you just have to shut up and smile.BDSBw_JCIAAV2ef.jpg-large

9. Never underestimate the power of a peaceful mind. Samhkya philosophy states there are three states of mind: tamasic, rajasic and sattvic. A tamasic mind is dull, heavy and prone to lethargy, ignorance and laziness (kind of the state of mind when you have a stinker of a hangover). A rajasic mind is always active, always anxious, restless and chasing after things (when you just can’t settle down and your mind is moving a mile a minute — that’s rajas at work). The ideal state is sattvic, which is characterised by balance, harmony, peace, equanimity and clarity. Unlike the other two states, a sattvic mind is a clear mind, and we need a clear mind in order to effectively deal with, assimilate and resolve our experiences.

Most of our problems stem from excess rajas and tamas and too little sattva — we get into trouble because we’re not adequately dealing with what life brings our way for lack of a clear mind. The gunas can be managed by lifestyle, diet, exercise, meditation and modifying one’s life appropriately to cultivate a clear, peaceful, calm mind. This really is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself, and indeed others. Whenever we’re feeling stressed, anxious and perturbed it’s impossible to think clearly, so we don’t adequately respond to what’s coming our way. There’s immense value to taking responsibility for our state of mind. It can literally make or break us. I’ve learned it’s vital to get myself to a peaceful and relaxed place, regardless of what’s going on around me, and learn to stay there as much as I can.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor Frankl

10. Forget the past. It’s gone, over, dead. It exists as nothing but a thought in your mind amid hundreds of thousands of other thoughts. Let it go, or it’ll drag you down. Every day, every hour, every moment, we are born anew. Life is can be ever-fresh, vital and exciting when we choose to experience it as such. 2014 is an exciting new chapter, and I for one am looking forward to it!

let-go

Thanks for reading, take care and wishing you all a very happy new year!

Tao Te Ching 44: Nothing is lacking

contentment_dog

- 44 -

Which is more important, your honour or your life?

Which is more valuable, your possessions or your person?

Which is more destructive, success or failure?

 ~

Excessive love for things exacts a great cost.

If your happiness depends on accumulating wealth,

you will never truly be happy.

 ~

What you gain is more trouble

than what you lose.

Be content with what you have;

realise that nothing is lacking.

If you know when to stop,

the whole world belongs to you.

~

Commentary

The greatest secret in the world is simply this: happiness and fulfilment, which everyone basically spends their life striving toward, can never be found outside of oneself.

The delusion that we need external success, renown, fame and wealth in order to be happy is a lie. In spite of our culture’s fixation with celebrities and their extravagant lifestyles, we still haven’t figured that these people are usually just as dysfunctional and unhappy as the average person — and very often more so. Although it’s plain to see that fame and wealth do not in themselves bring happiness, many people are still focused on chasing these seductive phantasms.

Changing our perspective can change our experience of life in an instant. Why buy into the mass delusion that the more we gain the happier we’ll be? Lao Tzu suggests that the more we have, the more trouble we often experience. The moment we’ve attained or acquired something, we immediately have the stress of having to hold onto it! I’m always fascinated by stories of lottery winners who suddenly find themselves with more money than they know what to do with, only to find that their euphoria is quite short-lived. In a number of cases they actually end up worse off than they were before.

The Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero once remarked that “to be content with what we possess is the greatest and most secure of riches.” 

Know when to stop, and see how life blossoms in the most unexpected ways. Happiness is no longer some obscure object of pursuit, but a reflection of our true nature.

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